The weekend of the 40th anniversary of Woodstock saw another festival in full flow and, with the spirit of Woodstock in mind, ATL reviewer Mark Bignell set off to join the party in Hungary's capital city, Budapest. Set on a beautiful tree-covered island in the middle of the Danube river, Sziget (pronounced See-Get) is a mammoth seven day festival (5 festival plus 2 party days) attracting festival lovers from every corner of Europe and beyond...
Now in its sixteenth year, this time round the festival was reduced to five days but cheekily managed to get around by throwing in two bonus days (-1 and 0) featuring a host of local bands and a Rock Against Racism concert on the main stage. If you were unimpressed by the act on offer you could head to the Chuck Norris cocktail bar, where you can imbibe (among other things) some premium Chuckahrinas, just the way Chuck likes it. Or you could embrace the top quality Hungarian food on offer. Rooster testicle stew, paprika sausages, goulash and of course festival staple langos (fried bread pancake covered with garlic sauce and cheese) were among the numerous varieties available for very affordable prices. Day -1 saw an impressive gathering for local band Tankcsapda. Not even the crowd's enthusiasm and word for word sing-along managed to win me over, so it became instead a night of exploration and discovery. You can be guaranteed you won't run out of things to do at Sziget!
The main stage this year hosted mostly mainstream acts like Fatboy Slim, Bloc Party, The Prodigy, Faith No More, Placebo and our very own Snow Patrol. The local lads played on Day 1 after a sun-kissed set from French band Nouvelle Vague. When Snow Patrol came on stage to a huge crowd, Gary Lightbody appeared humbled by the response. The band played a heart-warming set and it was a fitting performance to start the night's ensuing vibe.
For the most part it was hot, hot, hot and when it did rain, it was warmly greeted as it managed to keep the dust down. Slightly. Background sound checks from Primal Scream playing Loaded ensured anyone bummed out by the rain were cheered up.
You definitely get maximum bang for your bucks at Sziget. This year's tickets costing €150 for 55 venues and almost 200 acts, along with food and drink at a reasonable rate, make Sziget an obvious choice for music lovers on a budget. However, price increases from last year did leave some locals feeling they had been priced out of Sziget. Many Hungarians I spoke to were coming for only one day and felt that the festival wasn't for them anymore but for the international crowd that now dominate the festival. This once tiny student festival is now big business and that isn't likely to change any time soon.
This year saw an unprecedented number of British and Irish festival-goers, with many first time islanders. It was great to see so many people from the UK and Ireland venture away from the main stage acts with flags of all nationalities present at the world music stage and the ever popular Roma Tent. The musical vibes of the region are ever present at Sziget and this year was no exception. Despite going up against Faith No More, Boban Markovic and Frank London's Klezmer All-Stars gathered a huge crowd, especially after crowd pleasing renditions of Kalashnikov sending the crowd surfers sky high. Markovic played homage to his inspiration, his �Rabbi� Michael Jackson with a crazy version of Billie Jean. Boban Markovic is no stranger to Sziget and has earned himself a bit of a reputation after he managed to get a crowd so big last time out that Oasis had to be delayed.
The organisers this year also treated islanders to a new addition to the festival. The Hungarian Village allowed islanders to sample the taste of some choice Hungarian delights, learn some traditional dance moves and play a range of old Hungarian games. I tried to take a photo during a traditional Hungarian wedding dance when a crowd of Hungarian grannies threw a number of candles towards the doorway I was standing in. Not a drop of wax hit me. Me 1 - Hungarian grannies 0.
Seven days at a festival could potentially turn into a marathon struggle to get through but the organisers provided a solid infrastructure, including proper working toilets. Of course the best thing about having a festival in the middle of Budapest means a short boat trip later, you can be sitting in Hungary's world famous thermal baths. Revitalised and refreshed, no trip back to the island can be complete without a trip past the enormous supermarket conveniently parked a short dander from the festival entrance. The bemused locals can only look on in amazement as the scantily-clad islanders take over the supermarket and car park as they scoff down dirt cheap bread rolls and desperately try to think of creative ways of smuggling cheap dodgy booze back to the island. Allegedly.
The final weekend saw the island swell with local punters for the Prodigy and my, oh my how we loved it. Putting the previous night's performance by Fatboy Slim to shame, the band stormed through old and new tunes. I'll have to admit though that many were left wanting after an all-too-brief version of Invaders Must Die led into Diesel Power. But personal highlight of the festival has to be French Ska, Gypsy band Babylon Circus who played to an epic crowd of around ten thousand in the newly enlarged A38-Wan2 Tent. After a few minor sound problems at the beginning the atmosphere was edgy, people were climbing the girders in the ridiculously massive tent but when the band finally got going the crowd was instantly won over and the temperature reached boiling point. After 3 encores and several foot cramps later, it's safe to say it was one of the best gigs I've ever witnessed.
Sat on a hillside at the travelling funfair/arts end of the island, soaking up the sun and watching the crazy islanders dance and juggle the final evening away and with Woodstock in mind, I thought to myself there's nowhere I'd rather be than right here, right now.